Stranger In Town
from 2000
by dean adams
Fall, 2000

In my little town, I'm the bike guy. Being a little village of 15,000 located in an area that—before the recent trend of global warming—was as cold as Superman's Fortress of Solitude nine months a year, motorcycles just are not that prevalent here. I have some, one of the guys who hangs out at the new coffee shop down the street rides a Ducati ST2, another fellow in the trailer-park has a ZX10, some kid zooms around town on a yellow GSX-R600 with a very loud Yoshimura exhaust on it. That's about it.

There are the forgotten bikes of course: every once in a while I'll spot an old Magna or GT350 pulled from its confines in a garage while the car abode is cleaned. Motorcycles, and especially cool ones, are fairly rare in these parts.

Yet, for the past two weeks, I've been hearing something strange on occasion: once while taking a bag of garbage out on my way to the office, PowerBook in one arm, Hefty cinch sack in the other, I heard an unfamilier to me motorcycle exhaust a few blocks away. I stopped, held my breath and listened. It's sort of a sad deal when you know the exhaust note of every bike in your village.

It was unmistakably a motorcycle, a Twin, aftermarket exhaust, not a loping Harley-Davidson, probably some breed of sport bike, my ears told me. I listened as it trailed off in the distance, moving towards the old hospital.

Some out of towner, I thought, jumped off 61 to see where they put Bob (Zimmerman) Dylan in the can for a weekend as a teenager to teach him some manners. They come, they look around, pay three bucks for a cup of coffee, and then go back to Minneapolis. I forgot about it, sort of.

Then, the other night as I loaded the youngest in the car for a drive around town to help restore his mother's sanity, I drove out the alley behind the house, stopped at the street, looked both ways and started to pull out. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something and my head slammed right, eyes focusing for just a second on a bike that flashed by on the street, half a block away. Dark color, Twin, thin rider with a quality helmet on his head. Boom, he was gone.

"What the hell was that?!" I said to the not too verbal 15 month old strapped in behind me. The kid stared at me in response. I started out after the mystery machine, got balked by a traffic jam, (ten cars, one stop sign) and by that time he was gone. I stopped the car, turned off the engine and listened, windows down. Nothing.

Where did he go, I asked my little son in the seat behind me. He stared back with big blue eyes that said, You are a peculiar man, father. "Mo-mo," he said.

Son of a bitch. I am the Bike Guy in this town. I have or have had all the cool bikes. I am the one to call when that rusty Dream in the garage that you just re-discovered you own won't start. I have a Australian Grand Prix poster on the door to my office. If fliers come to the post office and are undeliverable, but are pertaining to bikes, they put them in my box. For some reason I get Rider magazine for free every month, in the mail, and one day I left a copy in the booth at the Bayside, a bar I visit for lunch once in a blue moon. Two months later I stopped in again for lunch, and before I even sat down, Bev, the barmaid, launched over to me, set the magazine down on the table and said, 'Someone left this here and we just knew it had to be you." I'm the motorcycle enthusiast in this town and damn it, not knowing who owned a cool bike here was not a point of honor with me.

It haunted me in a slight way: once, sitting in my office, I heard the machine again. Twin, loud, not a Harley. And then it was gone. But it had been close. A recon mission around the block unearthed nothing except an ice cream cone.

I tried to forget about it, and at the same time I asked around. I talked to the guy in the trailer park with the ZX10. 'Know anybody with an older Twin, dark color, not a Harley, rider wears a I-have-a-brain-I want-to-protect- helmet?' I asked him.

He thought for a while. "Nope, nope, sure don't. You sure he's from around here?"

I've seen it twice, I said, unless he's visiting ...

"Boy, I dunno," he continued, chortling. "Seems strange that you're asking me about the bikes in town. I'd think you'd know." Daggers.

Last night we went for another father-son drive, listening to NPR, windows down, new Twin all but forgotten. As we slowed to a stop by the oldest Lutheran church in town, out of the corner of my eye, in the myriad of shapes and colors and images that were streaming past, somehow my brain saw a familiar outline and called my attention to it. Hard to the left this time, and there it was, the mystery bike, sitting on its kickstand in an alley behind the church.

I thought about running the car up the wrong way on the one-way, so as not to lose site of the bike this time, but with the kid in the car, I decided to abide by the law. It seemed like it took an eternity, but I circled around and pulled up in an partially hidden from sight alley with only one outlet and two turns in it (the first city planners were Indians, circa 1720). I rounded the last corner, expecting the machine to be gone and was genuinely surprised when the mystery bike was still sitting where I'd seen it maybe twenty seconds ago.

I parked, grabbed the kid and walked over to it.

Definitely a cool bike. Late 1960s BSA Twin, pretty much original cosmetics. Cut down seat, low bars, bar end mirror on the left (the way old guys tell other old guys, "I am not a poser"). Ex-XR750 or Aldana-era BSA dirt track tail section on it, replacing the huge chrome rear bumper. Fresh Dunlops on custom wheels and one big Brembo up front. 11,000 miles on the speedo, its numbers still white. No leaks under that wide mill, big carbs hanging off the intakes. Works shocks and the unmistakable girth of Cerrani's up front. I tapped my hand lightly against the exhaust, it was cold. The owner hadn't just gotten off it.

"Mo-mo," my son, Kipp, said, while looking at the bike, then at me, then at the bike.

As we stood there, it started to rain. I waited for a bit to see if the owner would leave the church to move the bike under the nearby awning, but he or she never came out. I thought about moving the bike myself, it'd be a shame for it to get wet, and although this one was a better than most example, lots of Brit bikes from this era will show surface rust on the tank trim if you sneeze near them.

I thought of what I'd say if the owner caught me moving his bike, 'Hi, I'm Dean, the Bike Guy in this town ..." and decided against it. Then it started to rain harder, so we jumped back in the car and drove off.

Thinking about it later, I was comforted by the presence of another human in this town perhaps being on the same strange wavelength as I am. I envisioned meeting this obviously bike astute person and striking up an acquaintance. My mind dreamed of not just Rider magazine and a rootbeer with my lunch, but someone I could chat with and say things like, 'You know, I'm still kind of pissed about Freddie stuffing Kenny in Sweden in 1983. That was really a reckless move,' and not have the other person think me a babbling idiot.

I walked past the Lutheran church on the way to the office this morning and peeked down the alley.

The bike was gone.


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